Belarus: Right to strike setback, but world championship withdraws

The right to strike in Belarus has been further undermined by a Supreme Court decision, 19 January, that an August strike at the Belaruskali fertilizer giant was illegal.

Tens of thousands of people have taken part in strikes and demonstrations in the country since Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in rigged presidential elections in early August 2020. Thousands have been arrested and detained and more than 150 remain behind bars.

In another development, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has been forced to withdraw the Ice Hockey World Championship from Belarus after the main sponsor, vehicle maker Skoda, intervened on human rights grounds, along with other sponsors including the cosmetics maker Nivea. The country was due to co-host the championships with Latvia in May.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “The Supreme Court’s ruling, upholding a lower court decision, is yet another blow to the fundamental right of all workers to take strike action to defend their interests. The court system is totally subjugated to the will of Lukashenko, denying justice to workers and the people of the country.”

The Belarus government has targeted athletes in the repression of recent months, as opposition to Lukashenko has grown. However, calls by athletes and others for the ice hockey championships to be withdrawn from Belarus were ignored by the IIHF with its President, René Fasel, claiming that sport and politics do not mix.

Unions and civil society allies in Switzerland, where the IIHF has its headquarters, protested at Mr Fasel’s recent visit to meet Lukashenko. Mr Fasel is a former Executive Board member of the International Olympic Committee, which has already imposed sanctions on the Belarus National Olympic Committee of which Lukashenko is President.

“Skoda and the other sponsors are to be congratulated for driving the championships out of Belarus, after the IIHF failed in its responsibility to defend human rights. This is yet another example of the urgent need for good governance and human rights in sport. All companies that sponsor sport should join the movement for systematic reform,” said Sharan Burrow.